Whether you're considering the manga or the anime version of Akira, the central themes and story have aged remarkably well. Melding a classic personal tale of two best friends coming to blows with a politically-charged conspiracy plot, Akira is undoubtedly just as relevant as it was in the 80s. Arguably, the story's political elements are more apt now than ever before.
Whatever your political affiliations and beliefs, Akira's story of a country ravaged by a devastating nuclear explosion and subsequent world war, now struggling under the rule of an unstable government, tap into many current world issues and fears. Film history has shown that some of the greatest movies ever made have referenced the cultural zeitgeist of their era in a way that remains relevant many years later and an Akira movie could do just that in the current climate.
Whilst many anime and manga series explore more general themes - Dragon Ball's message of determination and friendship or Death Note's exploration of morality, for example - Akira's story is eerily relevant to an international, modern movie-going audience. Not only should this give a live-action Akira stronger hopes of box office success, but it also means that the original story lends itself far better to the cinematic realm than many of the adaptation attempts that have come before.
One of the most common pitfalls live-action anime adaptations fall into - both in the West and in Japan - is that they try to alter the source material in order to create broader appeal. This tactic consistently fails, as existing fans of the franchise are alienated by what they deem needless changes and the subsequent negative word of mouth deters more casual viewers from stumping up their hard earned cash.
Happily, Akira has already proven itself to have a wide crossover appeal. After all, you don't get passionately talked about across the globe almost 35 years after first debuting by not having a diverse following. For action-heads and thrill seekers, there is plenty of violence, action and bike chases. For those looking for something more cerebral, there's an engaging and complex plot. For fans who enjoy fantasy and super-powers, there are creepy psychic children. And Akira doesn't just appeal to a broad spectrum of film fans, it also courts popularity across cultural borders thanks to the universal themes and issues explored.
Another big stumbling block for anime adaptations, particularly those made in the West, are accusations of whitewashing. Whether you agree with them or not, the negative press generated by such criticisms clearly had a detrimental impact on the success of Ghost in the Shell and it doesn't seem to have done Death Note any favors either.
Akira could deftly avoid this problem. As far as setting is concerned, any Akira movie needs to be set in Tokyo. The Japanese city is as integral to the story as the city of New York is to Spider-Man and many would argue that the location becomes a character in its own right.
With regards to characters however, things could get a little trickier. Studio executives seem to be firmly under the assumption that Western audiences won't flock to see a film that features a foreign cast and whilst the logic of that conclusion is very much up for debate, the story of Akira allows for the issue to be (mostly) circumvented.
Naturally, with the story set in Japan, the core cast of Kaneda, Kei and Tetsuo would need to be played by actors of Japanese descent but the story also calls for the casting of a group of U.S. Marines which would potentially allow for more Hollywood-friendly casting opportunities. As such, the cast of Akira could avoid accusations of whitewashing, whilst also appeasing movie studios thanks to the Western characters that are already present in the original plot.
Despite all of the above, Akira could still be a cinematic abomination. Who's to say that Warner Bros. won't cannibalize the plot beyond all recognition and attempt to turn the story into a high-school teen drama. However, perhaps for the first time, all of the ingredients needed for live-action success are present within an anime adaptation's source material. Akira's story, characters and style all have the potential to translate effectively and its huge crossover appeal could predicate a big splash at the box office. Now all Warner Bros. need to do is make it.